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It's Time To Talk About Accessibility (a11y)

May 7, 2019

As we all know, the Internet boasts an absolutely enormous user base, which presents a great opportunity to savvy business owners who focus their efforts on tapping into this market. With hundreds of millions of daily users, it’s no wonder that digital marketing and online business has skyrocketed in recent years. Yet, among the Internet’s countless users per day, there is a marginalized group; users who are often overlooked and unable to access the same content as other web surfers. I’m talking about people with disabilities, who have all the same rights, needs, and wants as any other user, but oftentimes lack the opportunity to utilize the web properly. While this paradigm has been changing thanks to organizations and individuals alike, there is still work to be done to allow these people the full experience they deserve, a goal which we can help them achieve through our own websites.

The term accessibility, also written as a11y, is an extremely broad yet extremely important idea that should be considered in any marketplace. It refers to the ability of any user, regardless of disability or impairment, to fully experience their surroundings, whether that be a physical store or a web page. Just as an apartment complex should have a wheelchair ramp and braille signs, our webpages need to include certain features that will help people to better utilize and understand our brand, even if they are disadvantaged.

Accessibility online is very relevant to any web designer. There are a total of 285,000,000 blind or visually impaired people on Earth, according to a study done by the World Health Organization in 2012. Another such study in 2004 found that there are 275,000,000 hearing impaired people in the world. These are massive numbers, nearly equaling the populations of massive 1st world countries. In all, these are still people who want to use the Internet and experience the same web pages as other people, and yet there are still web designers who don’t take the appropriate measures to account for Internet accessibility. From a moral human perspective, these simple steps that I’m about to lay out are a no brainer, and should be taken to ensure all web users have comparable experiences. But even from a purely economic standpoint, accessibility is a positive decision. If you’re operating your online business without taking steps to allow visually impaired users to operate, you’re missing out on their business entirely, and painting a bad image for your brand. Consider just how many people are visually or hearing impaired, and you can see just how much business you’re missing out on by not including accessibility measures.

It is important to note that accessibility does not only pertain to hearing and visual impairments. There are also language barriers, physical impairments such as broken arms, and or even sub-par technology. All of these are potential issues that a user visiting your site can face, and you have to look at the ways you can mitigate these issues if you want their business.

Luckily, accessibility is actually a rather straight forward model, and there are numerous resources at your disposal. The greatest help I’ve found is through the website a11y Project (https://a11yproject.com/). This website is wholly devoted to the betterment of online accessibility, and they have a few useful features that can help to improve your own websites.

The first of these features is the open-source library, which houses a list of useful widgets and other patterns that can easily be incorporated into our sites. Many of these features are straight forward and built in Java-script, which allows for them to be incorporated on a large scale. Additionally, they’re all extremely useful for any site! There’s drop down menus, video players, and tabs, all laid out on a silver platter. They’re great ways to incorporate more features in your site, and all of them are designed for easy access. Another feature, perhaps even more important than the libraries, is the Checklist. It allows you to view and consider every aspect of your page, and ask if it truly is up to snuff. Are your images accompanied by alt text? Are there text transcripts for your videos? These, and dozens of other questions, are all posed to you, ensuring that you’ve truly considered every potential audience member.

Aside from the brilliant a11y Project website, there are many other resources to turn to in order to ensure every accessibility need is met. Recently, Google has incorporated accessibility settings into their basic set up, doing their part to help every user fully integrated in their browsing experience. This allows both users and creators to make their web pages with accessibility in mind, and push relevant features across the web wherever possible. * As a side not, Google is one of the most successful businesses there is. If they find accessibility to be of such importance, so should we! *

The Internet welcomes countless users each and every day. However, those users that have some form of disability have found themselves struggling to access every part of the Internet. But if we, as developers, put some thought and effort into our own sites’ accessibility, we’ll be able to welcome these users with open arms.

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